The Census 2011 report has confirmed that India is growing by leaps and bounds. Second only to China in terms of head count, India is officially home to 1.21 billion people, an increase of 181 million with a growth rate of 17.64 percent, since 2001. However, a closer examination of those figures shows that the male-female ratio for children (0-6 years) born in that decade is the worst since independence. For every 1,000 boys, there are only 914, a decline of 1.4 percent from the 2001 census figures (927 girls per 1000 boys). For a country that aims to become a superpower by 2020, these figures are alarming indeed.
While the country’s cultural and largely patriarchal mindset is being unanimously blamed for this decline, one look at the sex ratio in different parts of the country will shed any illusions that the problem is rooted solely in rural India. Punjab and Haryana, notoriously famous for a strictly male-oriented society, have recorded an improved sex ratio since 2001 census. Even so, the two districts in India with the worst sex ratio—Mahendragarh and Jhajjar—are, paradoxically, both in Haryana.
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Compare this with Mumbai—the commercial capital of the country that is known to bask in its affluence and extravaganza. There are 838 females per 1000 males in Maharashtra’s capital city. Even nearby cities and districts like Pune, Thane and Aurangabad do not have a very healthy sex ratio, suggestive of prenatal sex centers that are involved in illegal activities like sex determination of the child during pregnancy. Middle class and affluent families, wrongly assumed to be liberal and open-minded owing to their economically stable social status, are among the worst offenders, as is visibly evident from the declining sex ratio.
The insistence on having a male child, who shall continue the family’s name and become an heir, has proved to be a major hindrance to the birth and survival of girls.
In a time span of ten years, instead of promoting and encouraging women’s liberation and emancipation, India is killing girl children even before they are born.
On the brighter side, a high sex ratio has been witnessed in backward tribal districts of Gadchiroli (975), Nandurbar (972), Gondiya (996), Ratnagiri (1,123) and Sindhudurg (1,037). Interestingly, all these districts are also located in the state of Maharashtra. Perhaps tribal culture is not as patriarchal and male-dominated in its mindset as the others. However, whatever may be the cause, the urban sector is performing no better than its rural counterpart when it comes to sex ratio in a country as large and diverse as India.
India’s declining sex ratio should serve as wake-up call for society, in general. Our stubborn determination to promote and encourage the birth of a male child casts the female child as a burden, not a blessing.
Taslima Nasreen, writer and feminist, once Tweeted on the status of women in our country: “If they survive foeticide, they don’t survive honour killing. If they survive honour killing, they don’t survive dowry death.” The life of a girl in our country seems to resemble an everyday battle. If such trends continue in 21st century India, basking in the glory of an envious economic growth, the day is not far off when Indian men will be lucky to find a woman to marry. The country must let go of its archaic mindset. The clock is ticking. We cannot let girls become endangered.